Although the casting process happens well before the first camera ever turns on to capture a scene for an audience, it is undeniably one of the most important components of bringing a production to life. Justine Arteta and Kim Davis-Wagner, long-time collaborators in the casting department, have been finding the right fit for characters and stories for 30 years together. With Daisy Jones and the Six, they had the opportunity to pour into the details of the cast ensuring that every part was casted to push the story forward.
In our conversation, Arteta and Davis-Wagner highlight their passion for the casting process and the approach for this series which required performers to act a character, but also to perform the musical component of the role requiring them to search through not only a wide array of actors, but musicians as well to compose the best possible band.
Read our full conversation with the casting directors below.
Welcome to Awards Radar. This is Danny Jarabek. I am here today with Justine Arteta and Kim Davis-Wagner. Thank you both so much for joining me. They are the casting directors for Daisy Jones in the Six. I’m very excited to be talking about this series and so welcome to you both.
Arteta: Thanks so much for having us. Nice to meet you.
Davis-Wagner: Nice to meet you.
You as well. Okay, so Daisy Jones and The Six, I would love to hear from you both. How did you start this process? How did this series come onto your radar? What were some of these just early conversations you were having? Take me through a little bit of your workflow.
Arteta: Well, I think it’s much like anybody else. The producers reached out to us and asked us to read the script and if we liked it, to come and meet. Kim and I read it, loved it. We both obviously read the book. I think everybody’s read the book. We said we’d love to meet on it. Kim and I, still after almost 30 years together, get nervous because it’s the same as any job interview, right? There are some jobs you really want and there are other jobs that you’re not sure, but then once you meet, you really want, or once you meet, you’re not so sure. There are many different versions. But Kim and I really loved this script and really loved the book. So, we went and it was a lot of people in the room, wasn’t it, Kim?
Davis-Wagner: Yeah. We were suddenly like, “Oh, fuck. We’re kind of nervous.” But we realized also, at the end of the day, it was not only about an era that both Justine and I are fond of, but also about old Hollywood and old Los Angeles times, and that relationship between the era and the music. It was a little bit of a love job all around. We were pretty excited at the idea that we got to meet on it and that they got it.
Arteta: And they basically said, “Hey, we’ll marry you for however long.” Which turned out to be a million years because of COVID right?
Davis-Wagner: It was a year and change before COVID and then almost another year after COVID.
Arteta: The team is so brilliant. That producing and writing team are just brilliant. To put your best foot forward on a show like this in cahoots with people like that, that are so creative and so smart, was a truly, really great collaboration for us. We just knew we were in hands that wanted the best of the best for this show. They were willing to take their time and find that, which was very nice.
Davis-Wagner: It was really a rare situation with that, right? We had a little bit of a timeline and a time frame that we were working under. But really the most important thing was trying to find the right people. So, to get to do that kind of a search was really cool.
Arteta: Then we had Blake Mills and Tony Berg. Brilliant music people. Our casting tapes would go to the producers and writers and Amazon and all of that. They had to also go over to Tony and Blake, so everybody had to weigh in. The fascinating thing is even how people hold their instruments in 2023 versus how people held their instruments in the 70s, it’s completely different how people sing now, possibly to how they did then because a lot of people sing using a different range nowadays, the modern music compared to how they were singing in the 70s. All this stuff had to get taken into consideration. There were songs that Tony particularly, and Blake, wanted actors to sing that could tell him if they could go to the registers that needed to be hit. So not only were we doing our usual thing of finding actors that could go to all the emotional places, it was this additional beautiful thing of who can go there musically?
That component is something I’m really interested in because, as you suggested, there’s multiple layers to how these actors have to perform. They’re performing as these characters, but they’re also performing literally on stage. And so, what were some qualities that you had begun to look for and were starting to maybe find a theme with what fit best for who you ultimately ended up casting?
Davis-Wagner: I’ll take a stab at my initial thought on that. We were both looking in the acting realm, high and low, all kinds of actors from every area of acting. But then also in the music world, we tried to see who, of all the musicians and singer-songwriter people who could act because we were like, that’s such a big component, obviously, of these roles. We really were doing double duty in terms of the search, and the level of searching that we were doing in both of those universes. We got pretty close and down to the wire with a couple musicians that could act and whose performances were really very close. It was such a tall order. We had so much that we were asking for, and some of those musicians got really close. But ultimately, we leaned into the actors that had some musicianship and that we were able to develop further and take what musicianship and learnings they did have and then just fully round them out and go there with them. Again, the beauty of the silver lining of the pandemic was then these actors had a bunch more time to just lean into their instruments and learn to play on another level. That was a gift that we could not have possibly imagined how lucky that would be and how that could pan out.
Arteta: That really makes good sense. But also, I think getting back to the very beginning of it, every single job as a casting director is about storytelling. All it is, is storytelling. To answer your question of, “What were you looking for?” It’s looking for people that can tell the story and that’s the bottom line. Do you drive the story forward? Do I believe you? That’s the crucial thing. Even in a two-line part, that two-line part isn’t just a two-line part. That’s not a throwaway. It’s storytelling. That two-line part is driving the story forward. Honestly, it’s harder to cast a two-line part because that person has to show their entire character with two lines. They have to show why they’re there, what relationship they have to whoever else is in the scene, and what they’re there for and it’s so fascinating. Every part of casting is just storytelling. So, when Riley Keough, brilliant Riley came and she said several times in interviews she needed to play Daisy and right back at her, she needed to play Daisy. I’ve got chills. Even just saying it, I just got chills.
Davis-Wagner: Yeah, I just got chills too. There was really nobody else. She was the only person for that part. And boy, oh, boy, we got just so incredibly lucky to have her.
Arteta: She can tell the story of Daisy better than anyone and it’s not like there’s a part for everybody, but this was her part.
I love hearing that. I’m getting chills just thinking about it because this is really cool to hear. The other side of it. Just between you two, how do you manage your just joint vision working together?
Davis-Wagner: Us too! Come on. We’re one of the older partnerships in this racket. What has it been, it’s almost 30 years, or around 30 years?
Arteta: Never Been Kissed.
Davis-Wagner: Right. On top of Being John Malkovich. Then before that, commercials and music videos. That’s right. So, we were working in commercials and music videos for years before those first films came along. We have a long, awesome, windy road with how long we’ve been doing this.
It was a bit of a leading question because I’ve seen so many movies that you both have casted. It’s almost incredible. But for Daisy Jones, were there any particularly challenging roles that stood out to you as something that you really had to go a little extra mile on finding the right fit for?
Arteta: All of them, every single one of them, we had to find the person that could tell the story of that character. We got really lucky because Josh Whitehouse came and did a beautiful audition for the role of Billy. But he didn’t feel exactly like what everybody was looking for in Billy. But he is Eddie. Do you know what I mean? We managed to say to his agent, “Would he ever consider because, all due respect, sometimes the actor only can see themselves and only can find the story of that character inside them?” But his agent went and said, “Hey, what do you think about this other character?” And he really liked it. That was very lucky we got to move Josh to that role. We had Daisy, then we had Josh. And then Suki came in and could not play piano. But we had worked with her before on a Lily Amirpour film and we knew what a workhorse she is as an actor. When she said, I will learn the piano, we knew she would learn that bloody piano. Even if she had three weeks to learn it, she would learn it. But obviously, as Kim was saying earlier, they ended up having a lot more time than that. Kim and I just got into the trenches of finding them all.
Davis-Wagner: But I will add to that Billy was definitely a challenge because, again, it was like he was so complicated and had so many layers to his character and there were not a lot of actors that were able to check all those boxes. When we would get sort of close or think that an actor might have had close to all of what we were looking for, for some reason, it just wasn’t ultimately there. When Sam came into the realm and into the room and worked and really went for it, it was beautiful. It was so beautiful to see him bring that part to life and to find Billy because that was not an easy part. That’s a really tough role. So dark and so sad.
Arteta: Everybody has to feel of the era. All of a sudden you see a person that doesn’t fit, we’ve all seen films and television shows where it’s like, well, who’s that? That person has suddenly taken me completely out of this story. I’m not in the 1920s anymore. I’m very much in today. That is a terrible wig and a terrible you know what I mean? It’s like, they really messed that up. That poor actor just got screwed. Kim and I are very honestly, if we had the time and the energy, we would want to cast all the background actors also because we just absolutely love it. We love when whoever’s on the screen every single person in the background feels of the story. One bad background person can yank you, “Wait, what’s going on? Who’s that face?” We’re bananas about it. It probably comes from all of our years of casting crazy videos with loads and loads of awesome background people and featured people.
Thank you so much for chatting with me. You both bring clearly so much energy to this process and it really shows in how this series comes together and so much of your work together. Thank you so much for taking the time to go a little bit behind the scenes and congratulations on this show. It’s a wonderful series. Everyone fits this 70s era so wonderfully. I hope to chat again another time because I could pick your brain for hours.
Arteta: We were so chatty happy!
Davis-Wagner: We obviously do really love our job still, and we just geek out and get way too excited. So, you lit the fire and it was great chatting with you today.
Absolutely. Thank you both. Bye.